Puppy biting is one of the most common and frustrating puppy issues. Although it is a totally natural process, many dog owners are a bit overwhelmed by their puppy’s behavior and often ask if heavy biting is already aggression.
I’ve got good news and bad news. The former is that puppy biting is normal, the second being that puppy biting is normal.
You probably have to sit this phase-out while you keep improving your bond with your dog and guide him to adulthood.
But sitting this out doesn’t mean you just have to sit there and watch him bite you or others. There are some easy steps you can follow to make sure your dog learns the appropriate behavior.
Why Do Puppies Bite?
Mouthing, chewing, and biting are natural ways for puppies to explore, taste and experience their environment. Everything they see gets into their mouth. This can escalate quickly when puppies eat stones.
There are three main reasons why puppies bite stuff and it almost never has to do with aggression (more on that below):
- Gathering information (texture and taste)
- Play-biting (this is where they learn bite inhibition)
The sharp little teeth puppies have helps them learn a crucial lesson during the early socialization process. Puppies who spend 8 weeks with their mother and littermates are
In this process, they will learn to adjust their biting behavior and the force they apply with their jaws to appropriate levels.
Puppies have tough skin so they are used to playing a bit rough with their brothers and sisters. When they play with each other and biting becomes too rough one will start to yelp. This is a form of feedback they get and is essential for their development.
In order to receive feedback, they need those sharp teeth because their jaws are not strong enough yet.
Teaching Bite Inhibition
When you bring your new puppy home, you now have the responsibility to continue with the feedback the littermates and the mother gave.
Many trainers believe that you should just imitate the sound of a little puppy screaming from pain but I personally believe that you as a human can never fully imitate canine behavior. Your puppy will probably just be confused, assuming you would be able to create a sound even close to a puppy yelping.
I’m laying out my personal method to handle puppy biting below. You will have to be patient and consistent with bite inhibition but it will pay
No Biting Tolerated
Petting your puppy almost always includes mouthing and biting. The goal here is to teach your puppy that nipping on human clothes and skin is not tolerated
Now, let’s say you’re playing with your puppy and he starts biting too hard.
It is important not to pull your hands or clothes away as a reflex. Fast movements reinforce your dog to chase your hand and that will probably make it worse. Instead, you should:
- Leave your hand right there and say a clear “ouch” (in a yelping voice if you desire so) until your puppy stops biting.
- Praise him for letting go and continue playing or petting.
- If you have a rough play biter that won’t stop nipping on you, simply stand up and ignore your puppy for a few seconds or leave the room.
Time outs are a very effective way to stop puppy biting as young dogs love to interact and play with their owner. If you suddenly stand up and leave the room after he bit you, he will definitely remember that. Once he is calm and gentle, you will enter the room again.
You should also teach him that clothes are a no go.
If playing gets too rough, you will simply stop just like before. Another way to distract him from chewing is by teaching him the command “let go”. This will bring structure into your game, teach him
If your puppy also goes for your ankles, redirecting him works just great.
When he starts biting your feet, stop right there in your movement and tell him a firm “no” or use the same yelping voice you used before. Once he has stopped, grab his favorite toy and play with him as a reward.
We want to really teach him how he should interact with our hands while playing or petting.
For this method, you will grab a bunch of small treats and place them between your index finger and thumb. When you start feeding them to your puppy you should pay attention to how he grabs them. If he bites too hard on your hand you will stop feeding him.
Leave them a bit longer between your fingers to see if he just tries to lick them out of your hand or if he uses his teeth.
Getting Rid of Excess Energy
If all of these tips don’t seem to work it is probably because your puppy is not exercised enough. I am not only talking about going for walks but also a lack of mental stimulation that can encourage biting behavior.
You should also consider attending puppy classes which are very important for his socialization. Puppies are the best teachers when it comes to play-biting and yours will love the play and interaction.
I have visited puppy classes since my dog was 9 weeks old and we still go to play classes twice a week. There is nothing better for a dog than playing with other dogs in a safe and controlled environment (not like the dog park).
Like babies, puppies lose their teeth and that’s why their gums can be irritated and itchy.
High energy dog breeds are more likely to chew, so getting that energy out in the morning and throughout the day is mandatory.
Things to Avoid
There are certain situations where you set yourself up for failure in regards to puppy biting:
- Avoid fiddling your hands in your dog’s face or grabbing his head between your hands for fun. This will only encourage him to bite.
- As I said before, avoid quick movements or pulling your hands away when he mouths on them.
- Do not play too rough with your puppy. This could potentially damage his little teeth and will encourage rough playing.
- We do not want to discourage the puppy to play at all. It is your responsibility to show him how to play in a gentle manner.
- Do not lose your patience and yell at him. Raising your voice does no good.
- Never hit or kick your puppy for biting you. He is not showing dominance or aggression towards you and physical punishment will make him afraid of you which might cause real biting.
When Play Biting Becomes Serious
Play and puppy biting is perfectly normal in most cases and doesn’t mean that your dog is showing any signs of aggression at all.
You just have to observe your dog’s body language as well as his vocalization to cross aggression out of your list.
When your pup is play-biting, he looks really clumsy with a relaxed body posture and no determination to harm you at all. It occurs when playing or petting the head, for example.
Early signs of aggression that mostly occurs in adulthood (hopefully never with the right training) can include your puppy biting significantly stronger than usual. His body is tense and he shows you his teeth and growls at you but beware of the difference between play-growling vs. threatening growling.
If this happens during a normal play session and he doesn’t experience any pain or something else that might have startled him, you might have a problem. Just to rule out any medical issues, you should visit a vet and get your dog checked out regardless.
If you then try your yelping sound, it will only encourage his aggressive behavior. Instead, do not show any emotions and do not back up from your puppy because that is showing him that you are afraid and fearful which is prey behavior.
If you can, you should firmly hold him still without hurting him until he has calmed down. After that, you should consult a professional to specify the problem and to avoid any further aggression.
My Rottweiler chewed and mouthed for maybe a couple of weeks and then simply stopped after we calmly showed her what to bite and what not to bite.
She’s around 2 years old now and biting was never a problem. Even during the most intense play session, she’s still so mindful and will never catch your arm or even finger by accident.
Let me know in the comments what helped you to get rid of puppy biting.